Mid-Summer 2019 Anime Ranking

A small anime load is going to be the norm now, as work and obligations continue to keep us busy. Also, I will confess that I recently caved and rescinded my One Game Policy™. I now play Ikemen Vampire as well as Ikemen Sengoku on a regular basis. They are fun and rewarding, but they do divert quite a bit of time and attention away from anime and life.

The anime series that we started and dropped this season numbered nearly as many as the titles we ended up sticking with. Some prominent shows that fell by the wayside include to the abandoned Sacred Beasts, FIRE FORCE, Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files, Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit, Multi-Target Attacks!, and Ensemble Stars!. Kochouki: Wakaki Nobunaga might be on the chopping block too.


01. COP CRAFT (ep. 1-9) – A fish-out-of-water, visible minority (alien) rookie cop gets paired with grizzled (human) veteran. Yes, we’ve seen this set-up a million times before, not only in anime, but in western entertainment as well. But even though there’s nothing special about the premise, or the animation quality, and everybody seems to be criticizing the show, I guess I don’t care about that stuff, because I still like it!

I believe it’s all in the execution. From the confident storytelling, to the impeccable comic timing, to the nuanced characters (side characters too!), and most of all the stellar script, COP CRAFT is really smart; and I find it to be highly enjoyable. I also appreciate the realistic way COP CRAFT touches on various social issues topics such as race relations, sexual orientation, and politics.
(streaming at FUNimation)


02. VINLAND SAGA (ep. 1-9) – Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Viking anime before. This one is a really well-written (and violent) tale of a young boy named Thorfinn losing his innocence and growing into a warrior obsessed with vengeance. I don’t know much about the events of the Middle Ages, so I’m learning a little bit of history from watching this show.

The first 3 episodes originally aired together, but we had to take a break between 2 and 3 in order to prepare ourselves for what was obviously coming.

I wonder that no one tells the whole truth to Thorfinn. I mean, Askeladd is clearly not a good guy, but he was more the weapon, not the rightful target for revenge. Honour had nothing to do with it, after all; Askeladd was hired to do a job, and he had to do it.

The opening for this anime is so good. Survive Said The Prophet’s melodic and metal “MUKANJYO” pairs beautifully with the dramatic character imagery, epic vistas, and constantly moving camera work to produce the best opening/ending credits sequence I’ve seen this season, and maybe so far this year.
(streaming: Amazon Prime)


03. [given] (ep. 1-10) – There’s a lot to like about [given]. As a band anime, it probably ranks up among the likes of NANA and BECK. The characters are all likeable, and the performance animation and music are quite good too. In addition, [given] is a sensitive and subtle story of the budding romance between the 2 leads, which gets a bit angsty, but not to the point of melodrama.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. STARMYU High School Star Musical Season 3 (ep. 1-11) – Hoshitani really, really wants to perform together with all his friends for the Opening Ceremony, which leads to trouble with the current Kao Council. That is actually the whole plot. And you know what? It’s stupid, but it’s enough. The magic of STARMYU is in the great cast. The characters are consistently loveable and funny (well, most of them), and true to their personalities. While I do miss Ootori and Hiiragi, STARMYU in general has not lost its charm, even well into its third season.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


05. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (ep. 14-23) – The stunning sakuga and gorgeous art toward the end of the spider arc had social media all abuzz. While it certainly looked impressive, I was personally more entertained by the (filler) episodes which led up to that arc. That’s because Zenitsu and Inosuke are such great characters. I mean I kind of feel sorry for Tanjirou that he has to put up with these crazies, but they are funny! My favourite part was how upset Zenitsu got when he was forced to part with that kid he was supposed to have been protecting.

At the conclusion of the spider-demon arc, the show tried to humanize the villain by showing his past, a typical occurrence in shounen storytelling. But it was way too little, way too late. After all the evil we’d seen him do, there was no way to justify that, and his origin story fell flat.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. Dr. STONE (ep. 1-10) – Senkuu is undeniably wise, not only in his scientific know-how, but also in his philosophical worldview. However, I have to question his leadership skills if at only the third episode, when the world as they know it has a population of 4, he already needs to make gunpowder!

Anyway, it’s very easy to root for Senkuu to be successful in reviving the world because obviously, science is cool.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


07. Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace): Act II (season 3) (ep. 14-24) – It’s been a really long time coming, but in the rivalry between Seido pitchers Sawamura and Furuya, Sawamura is consistently outperforming Furuya lately, and actually looking like the main character that he is! Coach Kataoka is even starting him in the important game against scary fast Hakuryuu High School. Let’s hope Sawamura continues to hold his own against their strong batters and audacious base-stealers.

It might not always be evident from the way he acts, but Miyuki is a remarkable captain for his team, passing on his knowledge to the junior members, and sadly, also preparing his pitchers for a future that won’t include him.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Fruits Basket (2019) (ep. 14-22) – We were getting a bit tired of the usual formula, which is: Tohru encounters the Souma-of-the-week.

Fortunately, eps. 21-22 shifted the focus to Tohru’s friend Hanajima, showing her past and explaining how she came to be the way she is now. Up until that point, she had been a pretty gimmicky character. This flashback story impressively and unexpectedly humanized her.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


09. BEM (ep. 1-7) – This is another 50th anniversary reboot project of which I’m not familiar with the original source or previous adaptations. It might be the fault of the dated franchise, but many of the villains are so cringingly ridiculous, they would have been right at home in the parody anime Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!.

Bem, Bela, and Belo are humanoid youkai who go around defeating evil monsters in order to protect humans. Their goal is to become human again someday.

So no surprise when, in ep. 7, Bem lectured Belo that he must not kill a scumbag who was experimenting on human and animal captives because it’s their policy to not kill humans. But then, Bem proceeded to release all of the creatures from their cages and allowed them to maul the guy to death. Umm okay, Bem, as long as your conscience is clear.

When it comes to gritty, dark, supernatural anime, COP CRAFT scratches my itch this season a lot better than BEM.
(streaming at FUNimation)

TIFF – Saturday Fiction

Released 2019

2 stars (out of 4)

This movie, set in 1941 Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, was too… advanced for me.

There were very many characters, each with their own allegiances, motivations, and secrets. Four languages were spoken prominently in the film (Chinese, Japanese, French, English); at least I had the benefit of recognizing each of them when I heard them, otherwise it would have been even harder to keep track of who was whom. In general, it was challenging to discern what was truth and what was a lie when the characters interacted with each other. That applied to the main character too. Great that she was a badass film star/undercover agent, but she remained as much of an enigma to the viewer as to her allies and enemies.

Additionally, there was a “play within a play” (the film shares the name Saturday Fiction with the play) which seemed to blend in to reality.

Based on the title, this blurring of fact and fiction might have been the whole intent, but for me, I could not tell what the movie was trying to say then.

The film was all in black and white, shot with hand-held cameras closely following the characters. With a period piece like this, I would have liked to have seen some historical scenery images, but there was not much to be found here beyond the inside of the buildings.

TIFF – No.7 Cherry Lane

Released 2019

3 stars (out of 4), having the benefit of the director’s preface. Likely less without it.

3D-animated to start, then redrawn to appear 2D on a rice paper canvas, No.7 Cherry Lane takes place during the political unrest of 1967 Hong Kong. The film was made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing; and the dialogue is a mixture of Mandarin and Cantonese.

Director Yonfan was in attendance and he provided an interview and comments before the screening – which was a really good thing! Apparently, he does not watch animated works himself, so he did not have preconceptions about how things should be done, and so the film might be seen as unconventional. He also warned that it would be a slow movie and advised us how important he thought the soundtrack was.

Indeed, No.7 Cherry Lane was pretty different from the anime that I’m accustomed to, which values “show” over “tell.” Some parts were so heavily narrated that it seemed more like reading a book, with the images on screen matching the narration. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as otherwise I might not have known to pay attention to the somewhat mundane details. Yet, for all the abundant exposition in those scenes, there were just as many that could have benefitted from further explanation.

Some parts were just plain weird. I still don’t understand the point of the ball-less tennis match (at first I thought it was an artistic choice to not show the ball, while my sister thought it was a budgetary choice – but apparently there was actually no ball!) And particularly, that hallucinatory sequence near the end had us wondering, quite literally, “What the heck is she smoking?”

The computer-graphic origin of the art was especially apparent in the characters’ movements, which was the “slowest” part of the film. The way they walked reminded me of zombies; and if I had been streaming this on the computer, I might have thought I had a connection problem with how laggy it looked!

This is not to say I completely disliked the film. There were aspects that worked for me. The music was beautiful, as promised. The historical Hong Kong backdrop was a treat to behold. Additionally, I did ship the May-December romance between the 2 leads, even if the love triangle seemed unnecessary and (at least for me) incomprehensible.

Masquerade KISS – Yuzuru Main Story

I started reading a couple of chapters of Yuzuru’s route a while ago, but it did not hook me enough to bring me back when I got busy. Recently, Love 365 held a 12-day special campaign where wait times between chapters were eliminated, and finally I was motivated to schedule in some reading time.

The route turned out to be really good! And it wasn’t because I personally liked the guy (I prefer more assertive, less tsundere types), but because the writing was great. The story had a good flow, and since Yuzuru was a man of such few words, it allowed “Mikoto” to really show some personality and sass. I thought their relationship felt more honest than the other routes, even though obviously, secrets and deception were part of the game. The ending (regular one – I did not shell out for the Super Happy End) rated high in the feel-good department as well.

This route had some nice, unique backgrounds. The music was the same as in the other 2 stories.

To sum up, I felt the MC and Yuzuru had enough believable chemistry in their fake-love-turned-real story that I’m willing to forgive the not one, but two coincidental meet-ups, and call this route the best of the 3 in Masquerade KISS!

Sound! Euphonium The Movie ~Our Promise: A Brand New Day~ (Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale)

Released 2019

This feature film, a direct sequel to Sound! Euphonium 2, stars Kumiko as a second year and introduces several new members of the Kitauji High School concert band club. It is lovely and will likely satisfy fans of the 2 preceding TV series.

But that, of course, is not me. As I have previously and recently stated, I watched, but wasn’t terribly excited about Sound! Euphonium season one. I never got around to watching season two. I enjoyed the side story film, Liz and the Blue Bird, somewhat. So keep in mind that my perspective might be considerably different from that of a true fan.

The first half of the film seemed to have an odd fixation on monikers. More than one character took issue numerous times about being called by surname instead of given name, or nickname instead of proper name. I found it a little weird that such a big deal was made out of it, and I guess I didn’t really understand the significance of it all.

The second half tackled the theme of talent vs seniority when selecting musicians for their club’s competitive performance, which is familiar territory for Sound! Euphonium viewers.

It’s obvious that a great deal of love, attention, and budget was put into the band’s final performance, which was easily the most impressive scene of the film.

Even though “finale” is in the title, the series is clearly not over; in fact, the ending teased a possible season 3.

Why did I go out of my way to see this, you might be wondering? The main reason is I believe in supporting anime screenings when they come to my local cinemas. The second is my sister is a slightly bigger fan of the franchise than I am (though not enough to get through season 2!) And finally, with the horrific tragedy that just occurred at the Kyoto Animation Studio, I’m especially keen to give the company some support right now.

The screening we attended was the English-dubbed version, which was rather a surprise to us in the audience. I’m not a dub hater, but it does take some getting used to; and some of the wording and intonations sounded awkward at times.

Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2019

TJFF 2019 took place June 6 to 27. I attended only 2 screenings this year, the opening night murder mystery, MASQUERADE HOTEL, and train-themed drama, Our Departures. Both films were excellent, with great scripts and equally great acting.

MASQUERADE HOTEL

Released 2019

Police detectives go undercover at a fancy hotel after deciphering a message that a serial killer’s next target will be at that location. Hotel supervisor Yamagishi is tasked with training Detective Nitta to be effective and convincing as front desk staff, but their backgrounds and personalities are very different and they frequently butt heads. Gradually, over the course of multiple subplots, they learn to appreciate each other’s input and become better at their own jobs from the experience.

The details of the crime investigation were too complicated for me, so I didn’t feel that I completely understood it. Also, if it were not for one lucky coincidence, they might not have identified the killer in time.

On the plus side, I related very strongly to the depiction of the hoteliers’ dedication to their work. My own job also has a significant customer service aspect. I am a bit of a workaholic who constantly strives to help my clients and make them feel comfortable, so that stuff really clicked with me.

Our Departures

Released 2018

Akira’s life is uprooted after the loss of her husband. Only 25 years old, she suddenly finds herself a single mother with no home and no steady income. After connecting with her late husband’s estranged father, she decides to follow in his footsteps and start a career as a railway driver.

This film is quite the tearjerker, more than I expected. Obviously, there’s the death of the husband, but beyond that, it’s the subtle ways that Akira and Shunya are affected by what’s happened, even as they do their best to move forward, that’s affecting. No one would fault Akira for feeling sorry for herself – she definitely did not sign up for this – but she doesn’t wallow in self-pity. However, there’s a moment when another character shows her kindness, and that was when the floodgates in my eyes couldn’t hold the onslaught any longer. If you have a chance to watch this, be warned!

Mid-Spring 2019 Anime Ranking

It’s a very light season for me this time. (Spoilers below up to the stated episodes for Demon Slayer, The Rising of the SHIELD HERO, and Ace of Diamond.)


01. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) Season 3 (ep. 50-55) – All the years of buildup has led to this. We are finally getting some answers to the ongoing mysteries, many of which date back to the very first season, which aired in 2013. Our main group of characters is front and centre for the action now and every episode is concise and riveting. We are really going places – even to the Basement!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (ep. 1-10) – The very best gory shounen series avoid falling into grimdark by balancing the heavy stuff with healthy doses of smart humour. Demon Slayer follows in this tradition, making it a fun show to watch despite all the tragedy and violence and horror. Incidentally, Attack on Titan is another great example, even if it hasn’t been very funny lately, for obvious reasons.

Though the art style is a bit of a departure from recent ufotable productions, the animation quality is reliably stunning.

What’s more, the characters are well-written and the family bond between Tanjirou and Nezuko is touching. When, in one of the early episodes, eldest brother Tanjirou expressed his desire to give to his sole-surviving sister all the things he would never be able to give to his other siblings, it just broke my heart.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


03. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind (JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Part 5: Ougon no Kaze) (season 4) (ep. 25-33) – Bucciarati and co. are getting closer to uncovering the Boss’s identity, but the price they pay is steep. As for the new villains, Doppio is insanely nuts while Secco and Cioccolata are insanely frightening.

Can we give a medal to Mista’s stand, Sex Pistols? Those hard-working little guys are big heroes!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. The Rising of the SHIELD HERO (Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari) (ep. 13-22) – Pacing-wise, a couple of the battles dragged on a bit too long this cour. And asking the Heros to get along and work together is still like pulling teeth.

At long last, it was nice to see Naofumi finally get some vindication, while Malty was exposed as a liar and schemer. Not sure it makes sense she’s still allowed to roam free and continue attempting to harm people though…
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


05. Fairy gone (ep. 1-9) – It’s a little slow-moving and convoluted at times, but I’m still enjoying the show and its fantastical post-war European-like setting. Some of the characters have laughably weird names, though, such as Free Underbar and Bitter Sweet!
(streaming at FUNimation)


06. Dororo (ep. 13-21) – Still kind of hit or miss for me. Again, the underlying family drama and nice-looking art are great, but the monster-of-the-week episodes, such as the ones featuring the shark demon and the creature that caused people to speak in opposites, still leave something to be desired.


07. BUNGO STRAY DOGS (ep. 26-34, or Season 3 ep. 1-9) – It would probably have been better if the events of the previous seasons were fresher in my mind. As it is, it’s a little difficult to keep track of the now huge cast of characters and all their motivations. In spite of that, I’m enjoying it okay.

Kudos to the show for producing yet another amazingly attractive opening sequence, again featuring stunning plays on light and shadows.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace): Act II (season 3) (ep. 1-10) – Admittedly I am no expert in sports nutrition, but I do have some general background in health, and I wonder about the dietary requirements for the team members. Of course it’s important that they eat enough even if they’re too tired to feel hungry, but can choking down 3 bowls of rice really be good for anyone?

Anyway, Act II has been less interesting to me than some of the previous material because of the early focus on new characters rather than our leads Sawamura, Furuya, and Miyuki (although it’s getting better – Sawamura gets to pitch!) Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of recap, but that’s not really anything new.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


09. Fruits Basket (2019) (ep. 1-10) – Honestly, I was never a super huge fan of the original anime, but I remember enjoying it enough to be curious about this new and improved reboot. I’m maybe a little less tolerant of plot contrivances than I used to be (of course, there’s always a reason for Tohru to accidentally turn the Souma guys into their zodiac forms), and I still find Kagura to be annoying as heck, but on the whole, the show is fine as light shoujo entertainment.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Liz and the Blue Bird (Liz to Aoi Tori)

Released 2018

This Kyoto Animation film has the same setting as the Sound! Euphonium anime series. However, the focus here is on two other members of the music club, while the leads from the TV series hardly show up at all.

Ultimately it is a simple story, but told with a lot of nuance in the relationship between the two main girls and a lot of detail in the glorious animation. Speaking of animation, the parts recounting the fairy tale of “Liz and the Blue Bird” (the musical piece the band was rehearsing and a story the girls were fond of) had a whole different look, somewhat evoking the whimsical feel of a Studio Ghibli film.

I personally found the movie to be a little bit plodding, which was also my complaint about Sound! Euphonium. But at least here it’s dragged out to 90 minutes instead of 13 episodes. Additionally, Mizore and Nozomi are a more likeable pair than Kumiko and Reina. Therefore I was able to enjoy Liz and the Blue Bird regardless of the fact that I wasn’t crazy about the original series.

Era of Samurai: Code of Love – Okita Souji Main Story

Okita’s main story is part of Love 365’s Free Titles promotion until the end of the month, so I decided to check it out. Okita, of course, is a skilled and ruthless swordsman of the Shinsengumi. The MC is a medic girl who is taken in by the Shinsengumi after some bad guys attack and destroy her home.

I thought Chapter 3 was too soon for the MC to be lecturing Okita about the value of life and wrongness of murder. He’d been a killer long before they met and they barely knew each other at this point. In fact, there was a very real chance she could become his next victim at any time. If they were becoming friends or considering becoming lovers, that would be a reasonable time to bring up that impediment to their relationship. Lecturing a stranger just seems cluelessly naïve and frankly dangerous.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable Shinsengumi period-drama even without the love story. As for the romance, their lives were so different; I didn’t see how they could truly understand and comfort each other. But whatever, it was still a decent little fantasy.

Masquerade KISS: Kazuomi & Kei Main Stories

One of the titles from Love 365’s otome app, Masquerade KISS features only 3 suitors and a MC who is an undercover secret agent. I recently read Kazuomi’s and Kei’s main stories concurrently; Kazuomi because he interested me, and Kei because his route was new and free to read without wait times. Normally there is a 5 hour delay between chapters if you’re reading for free. Being new to Love 365 and its Love Choice system, I read both stories completely for free just to see what it is like.

Kei, as expected, was not really my type. Guys with a tendency to lock you up are inherently kind of creepy to me, no matter how good looking or otherwise gentle they may be. I did like how he and “Nagisa” sort of became partners in crime. However, the early and middle sections were pretty slow moving, so I’m glad I was able to marathon several chapters at a time while reading his route.

Kazuomi was definitely more appealing to me, arrogant on the surface, but actually a good guy deep down. I found it believable that “Arisa” gradually came to admire him and feel reluctant about her assigned mission.

The same jazzy soundtrack was used in both routes, and it set a distinctive mood for these stories of love and deception. I particularly enjoyed the piece used in the ominous scenes; it sounded pretty to me.

The biggest factor that drew me in to Masquerade KISS was the smart and confident heroine. That said, I was a bit surprised that she was never suspicious about being tracked or bugged, even though it seemed strange to her that her boss always knew where to find her. Well, these are stories that are told in 26 very short chapters. They probably needed to keep the narrative moving and there was no time to make things more complicated.

I might go back and read the third guy, Yuzuru’s route eventually.